By Sue Magrath
I’m sure you’ll all agree that the last two years have been less than fun. They have, in fact, been the extreme opposite of fun. It certainly helps to have a vaccine that works and a loosening of restrictions, but we still have healing to do! We have been under the weight of fear, frustration, tedium, loss, and trauma almost continuously for way longer than most humans can bear. We need to rediscover what it means to be light-hearted. We need to have fun! With that in mind, I am offering a reprise/revision of a column I shared a few years ago.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1, Solomon states that there is “a season for every activity under heaven.” He lists several pairs of opposites—a time to be born and a time to die, a time for planting and a time for uprooting, a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and so on. There is an implied suggestion that balance is achieved through opposites, from which we can extrapolate that there is a time for sacred work and a time for sacred play. What if, when Jesus urged us to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, he was referring to more than their natural faith, trust and innocence? Maybe he was also talking about their playfulness and exuberance for life.
The problem is that so much gets in the way of play, not the least of which is our crowded day planners. In this adult world we occupy, play can seem frivolous, immature, and a waste of time. What will people think if they see us rolling around in the grass (or snow), playing hide and seek, or being spontaneously silly? And what about your attitude toward play? When we begin to consider the idea of play, we often smack up against our inhibitions, self-talk, and even, sometimes, upbringing. Our culture also shapes our beliefs about play to a great degree. We are a society that worships productivity, usefulness and competence, a culture with tunnel vision and can only see the end game, the product of our work. When we are working, we can push aside our self-doubt and convince ourselves that we have value or worth, but we forget that works righteousness is not the kind of relationship God desires from us.
I think that it is only when we stop and play that we become aware of how much God delights in us, how much our Creator longs to run on the beach with us, or play catch, or watch butterflies, or swing from the branches of a tree. We discover that God loves us for who we are, not what we do. Play liberates us from the confines of our perfectionism, from our need to acquire and achieve, and from our anxieties about tomorrow, for play is lived entirely in the moment. Play allows us to become more fully who we are. Schiller, a German poet and philosopher, once said, “The human being is completely human only at play.”
I think clergy are especially in need of play. The nature of the job requires you to be “on” so much of the time as you tend to your flock and fulfill the essential duties of your position. Even when you are away from the church, you are often conscious of how you are perceived in the community. It’s hard to let loose when you feel you have a reputation to uphold. But we all need time and places to be fully ourselves, where we can lower the barriers and just have fun.
I invite you to turn your imagination loose in your quest to incorporate play into your life. Taking a fun vacation is a good start, but play needs to happen more than once or twice a year. It needs to be a regular event. In this healing process, we’re all engaged in, we need the catharsis of laughter, which releases just as much repressed emotion as tears. We need to romp and be silly and let go of some of the anxiety and stress we’ve held for so long. I know time is a rare commodity these days, but see if you can take time to think about the fun activities for you and how you can incorporate those things into your life regularly. Get creative, imagine possibilities, give yourself permission, form an intention, and follow-through. Let play be the balance to your work, and let it begin to heal you from the stresses of this time in the life of the church, our nation, and our world.
Sue Magrath is a spiritual director and the author of several books. Her previous career spanned fourteen years in the mental health field. She is passionate about clergy wellness and has authored the book, My Burden is Light: A Primer for Clergy Wellness.